Kagemusha (1980)

Nobukado Takeda: "A shadow cannot exist without the person."
By Akira Kurosawa
With Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki and Hideji Ôtaki

I have seen a few movies by Akira Kurosawa in the past and I knew I should see Kagemusha but I never got around to doing that. A few days ago, I am not sure why, maybe because I watched some movies related to Japan, I decided to get around and watch Kagemusha.

In the 16th century, in Japan, the political unrest rages as the warlords fight each other through a game of alliances, observation and displays of power. The Takeda clan is trying to siege a keep but a soldier who keeps playing the flute at night prevents them to actually capture it. Shingen Takeda, the Lord of the Takeda clan, decides to hear the flute by himself in order to unveil the mystery but in doing so he gets shot and is badly injured. His instructions are clear, the Takeda clan must keep his hypothetical death a secret if it were to happen and they mustn't attack nor divulge the secret in at least 3 years. A game of pretending then start as the enemy know they shot someone but spies can't confirm his death. The brother of the Lord, Nobukado discovers a thief that was about to be executed but who looks exactly like the Lord. He will train him, in case the Lord dies so he could act as the Lord and keep the Takeda's influence intact.

Kagemusha is quite the epic movie, first of all the setting of the 16th century calls for a lot of costumes and intense battles involving horses, gunmen, spears and of course colorful banners. In addition to this, the film runs shortly over 3 hours which is in itself quite impressive, some moments do feel a bit slow but overall the 3 hours are filled in such a way that you don't realize it had been that long. At first it might be a little bit tough to get into as we don't know who is who, which secret alliance or interest is at stake, which clan is directed by whom and on top of that there is of course the issue of hidden identities.

Tatsuya Nakadai who plays the lead and double role carries a heavy weight on his shoulders but it doesn't disappoint showing comical relief and seriousness in alternation. My favorite scenes are the battle, they are colorful, full of extras, costumes, banners and on top of that as historically accurate as they should be. Once again, the only downside is to know who is fighting who and which banner represents whom.

In most of these aspects, Akira Kurosawa took the epicness displayed in Kumonosu-jô (1957) (Throne of Blood), his feudal Japanese interpretation of Shakespeare's Macbeth) and made it on an even bigger scale and in colors. The politics and themes also call to mind Seppuku (1962).

One can't help but notice the haircut galore we are served in samurai movies and this one doesn't disappoint. The theme of the impostor's trouble keeping his double identity is well treated, also mirroring the fact that both the brother and the son of the Lord have to remain in the shadow of someone they know is a fake, bringing up interesting psychological themes. One can't help but remember the comical aspect a similar story gave birth to in Chaplin's The Great Dictator (1940).

Finally, Kagemusha is as much of an historical tale than a powerful anti-war manifesto, showing the absurdity of death in numbers and the pride of a stubborn leader. The movie might fail to interest you in the first half but giving up then would give up on the part that exerts everything.

I liked: Epic battles. The samurai banners. Historical. Beautiful, especially the dream sequence.

I disliked : Confusing at first. Sometimes slow which is tougher in a 3 hours film.

A must see for anyone into Samurais or feudal Japan. It's a 3 hours investment but it won't leave you cold. 


Post a Comment